Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 31, 2015

March 30, 2015

House GOP Restores Budget Game of Thrones | Procedural Politics

When Republicans regained control of the House in 1995 after 40 years in the minority, they vowed to eliminate the Democrats’ “king-of-the-hill” process for voting on budget resolution substitutes.

Since 1982, the Democratic-controlled Rules Committee had been issuing special rules on budget resolutions that allowed for votes on substitute amendments by various factions, notwithstanding the disposition of a previous substitute. Under ordinary amending procedures, once an amendment in the nature of a substitute is adopted, no further amendments are allowed.

The “king-of-the-mountain” approach, as it was originally called, provided that if more than one substitute is adopted, the last one adopted prevails, even if it has a smaller majority. Not coincidentally, the last substitute to be offered would always be the Democratic budget reported by the Budget Committee. Full story

This Tax Season, Don’t Forget Your Use Tax | Commentary

By Jody L. Padar

As April 15 quickly approaches, tax-paying Americans are gathering their receipts and paperwork and breaking out the calculator. For some that means going to visit their accountant, for others it means downloading the latest tax software and for the traditionalists — filling out their tax forms with pencil and paper. No matter how you choose to take care of your tax task, there is one item on most state income tax forms that is often ignored. It’s usually found on the personal income tax form: “use tax on Internet, mail order, or other out-of-state purchases.” This is where taxpayers need to calculate the amount they owe in state sales and use taxes for the online purchases they made in the previous year.

Many shoppers think they’re getting a better deal when they shop online. Most online-only sellers are not required to calculate or remit sales and use taxes. This highly inefficient system means that their prices are anywhere from 4 percent to 10 percent lower than brick-and-mortar retailers selling the same goods and it puts the onus on shoppers to remit use taxes come tax time.

This not only hurts brick-and-mortar retailers who are at a competitive disadvantage and inconveniences taxpayers, it also impacts state coffers. With so many states strapped for cash, they’re looking for any opportunity to collect the revenue necessary to operate. Illinois, for example, even addresses it on their Frequently Asked Questions webpage and succinctly highlights why it is so important to pay this tax: “If you use goods in Illinois that were purchased tax free or at lower rates outside Illinois, you owe use tax to the department. If you do not pay, it is unfair to Illinois retailers, consumers, and taxpayers in the following ways: Illinois retailers, who must charge sales tax, are put at a competitive disadvantage as compared to out-of-state retailers, who charge no sales tax, or charge tax at rates less than Illinois rates.
Illinois must make up these lost revenues or curtail state services provided to consumers and taxpayers.”

Many find doing their taxes to be stressful and it doesn’t have to be this hard. Earlier this month the bipartisan Marketplace Fairness Act of 2015 was introduced in the Senate. This legislation would make online retailers collect and remit sales and use taxes at the time of purchase. Brick and mortar retailers do this on every purchase already and there are several companies that offer online retailers the ability to fully automate tax collection and remittance, so we know it isn’t too complicated to do. This streamlined process would ensure that local governments get the funds they need to operate and even the playing field for brick and mortar retailers. It’s time for Congress to act.

Jody L. Padar is the CEO and principal at New Vision CPA Group and author of “The Radical CPA.”

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March 27, 2015

Sasse, McHenry Bills Target Amnesty Payouts | Commentary

By Jenny Beth Martin

For conservatives concerned with America’s sovereignty and border security, there have been some setbacks since November. President Barack Obama ignored the wave election that overwhelmingly rejected his and his party’s stance on illegal immigration, and enacted a lawless amnesty scheme by fiat. Congressional Republicans, rewarded with historic majorities for standing up to his radical agenda on the campaign trail, promptly assumed their favored stance – the fetal position.

During 2014’s lame duck session, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talked a tough game, but then punted on first down. A chance to use the purse strings as an emerging Congressional majority was muffed, so afraid were the Speaker and Majority Leader-designate that they’d be construed as extreme by the Beltway media. So they funded all of the government at the level the president wanted through September, except for Homeland Security. Then they caved again, and gave the president what he wanted on that, too. Amnesty is the new, bipartisan thing.

On the ground, at the border, the president’s reckless policies are being played out in real time. Sadly, the future looks bleak, if House and Senate leadership are effective political measuring sticks. I doubt that even my friend Agent Chris Cabrera’s testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee will affect the GOP Establishment’s yearning for a stream of cheap, unskilled labor from down south. Other than Judge Hanen’s ruling that at least temporarily froze the president’s lawless scheme in place, it’s been several months’ worth of capitulation.

And it wasn’t enough for Obama to grant legal status to the criminals who’ve broken our laws to come here; he wants to line their pockets courtesy of the American taxpayers, too. That’s why IRS Commissioner John Koskinen announced the IRS’s latest interpretation of the law, which, in his view, will allow illegal immigrant beneficiaries of the president’s deferred deportation programs to collect up to $24,000 per family from the Earned Income Tax Credit – call them “amnesty bonuses.” Our government wants to write checks to non-citizens who have no respect for our laws.

Fortunately, there’s hope.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., have introduced legislation that, while not stopping the flow of illegal aliens into the Republic, will at least gut Obama’s incentive program. Sasse’s bill (S. 748), the Amnesty Bonuses Elimination Act, will prohibit the issuance of Social Security numbers (SSNs) to any illegal alien granted deferred action on deportation. Without an SSN, an illegal alien can’t cash in.

“Washington shouldn’t give special treatment to illegal aliens. This used to be bipartisan, common sense,” Sasse says. “In 1996, when President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich worked to reform welfare, Congress made Social Security Numbers a prerequisite for the EITC precisely to make sure that benefits did not go to individuals who broke the law.”

A good point, and one echoed by his House colleague. McHenry’s legislation (H.R. 1249), the No Free Rides Act, largely mirror’s Sasse’s. “The EITC is a tool meant to help American and legal resident families who are struggling to make ends meet,” says McHenry, “not those who have broken the law and abused the system.”

The president is rewarding bad behavior, and doing it brazenly. And it’s hard to blame him, when he’s kicked sand in McConnell’s and Boehner’s faces so often with no consequence.

Fighting amnesty for illegal aliens will be a drawn-out war for conservatives, what with so many in the GOP Establishment enabling or encouraging Obama’s assault on the nation’s laws and Constitution. Fortunately, though, there are some leaders in Washington willing to carry the fight to the opposition, even incrementally. Sasse and McHenry are doing their part, and we should all call our individual senators and congressmen and ask them to support these bills.

There are no free rides. Eliminate the amnesty bonuses.

Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.

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Small-Dollar Installment Loans Belie One Size Fits All Regulatory Scheme | Commentary

By Howard Beales and Anand Goel

Small-dollar loans are a form of unsecured credit that serves consumers who may not have access to other forms of credit. At least 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked according to the FDIC. Among the unbanked, 27 percent borrow through small-dollar loans, rent-to-own agreements, pawn shops or refund anticipation loans, a figure that rises to 40 percent among underbanked. In 2013, 12 million American households borrowed $46 billion in small-dollar loans. Yet, traditional lenders such as consumer banks have avoided these products due to the different economics of small-dollar loans.

Policy makers in Congress and with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have grappled over weighing the benefit and harm to consumers from small-dollar loans and the need for and appropriate form of regulation. Unfortunately, much of the current congressional and regulatory public policy climate is shaped by antiquated data and outdated assumptions that compare the costs of different forms of credit. A more complete understanding of the issue would identify the economic causes motivating these products. Full story

March 26, 2015

Stop Feeding the Trolls | Commentary

By Mark Griffin

Since 2004, patent trolls have sued my company 32 times. We have expended $11 million dollars in our defense. Despite our best efforts to fight back, the trolls don’t seem to go away. And we’re not the only ones suffering.

Patent trolls are exploiting our patent litigation system. They use vague patents, obscure infringement claims and the threat of expensive litigation as their business model. They claim to have exclusive rights to functionalities as common as Web searching, online shopping carts and even hooking a scanner up to a network. They frequently have no products to sell and create no jobs. No business is safe; they’ve attacked everyone from pizza parlors to grocery stores to online retailers. Successful businesses can find themselves targeted multiple times or, in our case, several dozen.

Trolls are costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars — some claim the direct annual impact is upward of $29 billion. We are pouring buckets of money into the pockets of expensive lawyers and unjust settlements — money that could instead be reinvested in economic growth and job creation.

At Overstock, we respect intellectual property rights, but we never settle with trolls, though we know that many businesses have little choice. They are intimidated when facing the high costs of defense or the hazards of unjust verdicts. In our case, the fight is paying off: In the past three years, 12 trolls dismissed their cases against us, choosing to walk away when they found we wouldn’t settle. But it is an expensive fight, and many companies cannot afford it.

Trolls are increasingly gnawing on the backbone of the growth economy, preying on small businesses and technology startups which have neither the resources nor the expertise to deal with these lawsuits — thus strategically attacking American innovation in its formative, rather than its formidable stages, all with devastating effect. Last year, more than 60 percent of the companies sued by trolls had less than $100 million in annual revenue. These companies are often forced to settle or pay bogus licensing fees to avoid lawsuits.

Fortunately, Congress is addressing the problem. Today, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to explore ways to end abusive patent litigation. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., recently introduced HR 9, The Innovation Act, which addresses the issue head on.

And there isn’t just one solution to the problem. We need comprehensive and economically impactful reforms if we are to succeed.

Whereas trolls risk little in bringing a lawsuit, defendants, on the other hand, bear heavy litigation costs with little hope of ever recovering those costs if they win. Judges need more leeway to shift litigation costs to trolls where cost-shifting is clearly justified in frivolous suits. And, because most troll entities are set up as little more than shell corporations, Judges need procedural tools to assure at the end of the day that those behind the troll companies will have to pay any imposed costs.

Also, under current rules, trolls can file complaints without even explaining how a patent is infringed, making it almost impossible for their targets to determine whether a complaint is legitimate before incurring enormous defense costs. We need patent suit pleading rules requiring much more specificity.

Lastly, trolls are experts at causing defendants to have to pay huge discovery demand costs right up to the point that a troll may simply walk away or be kicked out of court. We need practical tools for judges to fairly, and reasonably, limit the discovery process, and to weed out, at earlier stages, bogus claims before discovery is in full swing.

Similar legislation passed the House in 2013 with overwhelming bipartisan support, only to get mired in the Senate. Despite their differences, Congressional Republicans and Democrats generally agree that patent troll abuses must be stopped. This term they should reach across the aisle to get the job done now — we cannot afford to wait.

American business, our economy and future jobs all now stand on a narrowing bridge blocked by greedy patent trolls. Congress needs to help us to stand up and knock these trolls into the ravine, clearing the road to redirect hundreds of millions of dollars away from lawyers and back into economic growth and job creation.

Mark Griffin is the general counsel for Overstock.com.

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Abusing a Congressional Small Business Program: Paving the Road to Hell | Commentary

By Ev Ehrlich

If Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the Communications Workers Association and the NAACP agree on something, take note. For instance, all — plus a growing choir in Congress — agree the DISH network conned the federal government out of $3.3 billion by posing as a “small business” to take advantage of a preference for small businesses in government auctions of electromagnetic spectrum.

Spectrum, of course, is the real estate on which wireless broadband is built. Companies bid with hopes of winning blocks of spectrum to build out their networks and provide faster, more reliable services for consumers increasingly reliant on wireless Internet. It’s an incredibly valuable thing; in the most recent auction, following 341 rounds of bidding, the FCC auctioned off a record breaking $45 billion worth of this finite resource.

In the early 1990s, Congress gave small businesses a leg up in spectrum auctions by granting them up to a 25 percent subsidy. But in this most recent auction, DISH gamed the system by taking a majority ownership in two shell companies that qualified as “small businesses” mere months ahead of the auction. They used these companies to purchase billions of dollars of spectrum at the federal discount.

In fact, through its puppets (in which it owns 85 percent), DISH purchased more spectrum at a greater cost than any other bidder except AT&T. They outspent T-Mobile by more than sevenfold.

DISH’s actions are a flagrant abuse that costs all of us. The $3.3 billion subsidy it received could have funded an additional year’s worth of money for schools and libraries under the FCC’s E-Rate program, which seeks to link them to the high-speed Internet. Or it could have supplemented the FCC’s Universal Service Fund by 38 percent of 2013’s disbursements.

Instead, that money will go to DISH, setting in place a remarkably dangerous precedent for future auctions. And the even more remarkable part of the story is that the FCC is yet to deny DISH the incentive and bring the spectrum back to market. That needs to happen immediately, full stop.

But the entire sad episode leads to some other important points. Everybody loves small business, to be sure, but it’s questionable whether small businesses add to competition if they have to be subsidized to enter an industry in which it takes massive resources to build a national system. The consumer won’t get that subsidy – the company will keep it. And there is already, by international standards, a very high level of competition in the U.S. – we invest a higher share of gross domestic product in our networks each year than Japan or continental Europe and we’re the only country to maintain four, separate, competitive national wireless carriers. Despite having only 5 percent of global wireless users, the U.S. is home to more than half of the world’s 4G users.

If we really want to add to competition, then let’s flood the market for spectrum. Let’s shake it out of the federal government, where agencies often have dedicated spectrum frequencies that are unnecessary in the modern telecommunications world. And let’s squeeze more of it out of over-the-air broadcasters, who were given it as a gift generations ago but now reach more people by cable and satellite. That would add to competition and make the federal government revenue, not cost it.

And finally, in this and so many other areas, we face a fundamental choice — should the interaction of consumers and producers, or the preferences of politicians and regulators guide the development of the Internet? In other areas — environment, financial markets, worker health and safety — there’s a needed regulatory presence. But we seem to feel that the Internet won’t function unless the FCC decides how it’s going to look. Yes, the Internet is incredibly important. But that doesn’t mean we can’t “let it happen” and then respond to problems, like the digital divide, when we see them. I’m sure the advocates for a government-led Internet have good intentions. But, as in this DISH episode, remember where those lead.

Ev Ehrlich served as undersecretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton. He is now a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and president of ESC Company, a business consulting firm.

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March 25, 2015

Reauthorize CHIP to Strengthen Dental Safety Net for Kids | Commentary

By Paul O. Walker

Making progress toward good health – particularly children’s health – is a good feeling. Parents of healthy children marvel at their milestones and upward trending growth charts. Providers enjoy seeing our smallest patients start out life with a solid foundation that will carry them into healthy adulthood.

However, when we stumble in our ability to provide these essential building blocks, or take steps backward in the programs that help make it possible, the effects are significant and long lasting.

Full story

March 24, 2015

Repairing Traumatic Brain Injury | Commentary

By Amanda Bowman

There is “no secure means of diagnosis, but there are also no known ways to prevent it and no cure,” wrote National Geographic magazine in a recent article dedicated to the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghan wars. The assessment reflects the almost universally shared conventional wisdom about Traumatic Brain Injury. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

For now, even as legislation for removing Medicare caps for brain-injury treatment and establishing sports concussion treatment guidelines are drawing bipartisan interest on the Hill, we can confidently peer beyond TBI as a life full of frustration, solitude and suffering and instead look confidently at treatment that leads to recovery.

As a result of a unique public-private partnership, new revolutionary research and treatment programs are coming out of the U.S. military. A decades-old foundation — the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund — has raised millions of dollars for construction of state-of-the-art TBI centers that upon completion are run by the Department of Defense. These facilities are where much of the advanced work on TBI is being done.

At the five operating and soon-to-be opened Intrepid Spirit Centers (with the Fund currently raising money to build four more) around the country and the research-oriented National Intrepid Center of Excellence on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside of Washington, TBI-afflicted service members receive comprehensive, interdisciplinary and individually tailored evaluations. Clinicians identify the biological, psychological, social and spiritual elements contributing to symptoms and conditions. They develop a comprehensive, goal-directed treatment plan that center doctors and staffs then implement.

The process is highly innovative. Advanced neuroimaging detects the locus of injuries within the brain. Virtual reality simulators drill down and diagnose key cognitive pressure points. Then caregivers couple mainstream medical and therapeutic techniques with such non-traditional treatments as acupuncture and aroma therapy, all linked to new findings about the operation of the brain. A winding floor labyrinth in a serene setting allows patients to relax and meditate but also stimulates certain cerebral sectors to self-repair. Music and art therapy programs prompt soldiers to open up and express their emotions and entrapments while activating specific neuro-healing processes. Once dismissed as new age therapies, these methods are applied in response to the latest discoveries about how the brain repairs itself when injured. Perhaps most important is the inclusion and deep involvement of family in the rehabilitation process.

How effective are these facilities? The Intrepid Spirit Center at Fort Campbell, Ky., was dedicated in August 2014 and treats approximately 1,800 patients per year. It reports TBI-treatment results approaching or exceeding the advances against infection after the introduction of penicillin to our forces in World War II. That conflict was the first in which fewer combatants died from disease than battle wounds. As determined by a battery of standardized neuro-cognitive tests that certify a soldier prepared to return to active duty, the success rate in TBI treatment at Fort Campbell is running at a 92 percent. Suicide rates are going down, marriages are being saved.

Since 2001, nearly 230,000 soldiers and veterans have been identified as TBI victims, mostly from blast events, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. But tinnitus, sleep disorder, headaches, dizziness, tremors and hypersensitivity to noise are no longer limited to the battlefield. On the football field, we are seeing similar TBI symptoms and diagnoses from repeated concussions — so much so that National Football League champions Steve Weatherford and Sidney Rice recently announced their brains would be donated to scientific research on TBI after their deaths. Victims of auto accidents experience similar symptoms, as do youth soccer players. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in 2010, 2.5 million TBIs occurred either as an isolated injury or along with other injuries.

Meanwhile, the experts at the Intrepid facilities see an open door to treating sports related and other civilian concussions on a broader scale. But they also see hope for victims of multiple sclerosis, strokes, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson disease emerging directly from their work. They conclude that at almost any level the brain can be conditioned to fight back against what it is facing. If it is nourished, conditioned and exercised properly, the brain, they insist, is wired to fix itself.

Brain injuries no longer have to mean a life sentence in a prison of the head and heart. Recovery is right in front of us, not 10 years down the road. With continued awareness and attention we can continue to unlock its secrets and provide healing and hope. Congress may be able to help, but getting the science and treatment methods right are the first and essential steps.

Amanda Bowman has worked in various capacities on military and veteran issues for more than a decade. She is on the board of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

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March 23, 2015

National Ag Day: Celebrating the Backbone of America’s Rural Economy | Commentary

By Tom Buis

As we thank our farmers on National Agriculture Day for feeding and fueling our nation, Congress should show its gratitude too. Agriculture is essential to building a strong American economy, supporting rural communities, creating jobs and quite literally putting food on our tables. Our farmers provide American families with the most basic necessity — food — at a cost that represents about 10 percent of a family’s disposable income, the lowest rate in the developed world.

Our country’s farmers and ranchers create an economic boon for our rural communities — providing employment in farming equipment manufacturing, food processing and production in the communities that need it most. In addition to benefiting the rural economy, increased productivity and agricultural export is good for the entire U.S. economy. Higher food production using cost-effective means allows for a stable food supply for the consumer. Farmers also feed more than 144 people each, a nearly six-fold increase from the 1960s.

Full story

March 20, 2015

In ESEA Reauthorization Talks, Congress Should Keep Music Core

By Christopher Woodside

Maintaining the definition of core academic subjects, including “the arts,” in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is fundamental to orchestrating success for all students. For the benefit of our children and our nation’s future, we need schools to offer experiences that develop competencies in creating, performing, and responding. We need schools to foster creativity, which helps drive our economy. We need schools to instruct students in how to perform, both musically, and on the job. And we need schools to teach students how to respond to one another, their culture and the world around them. Music programs in our schools foster all of these skills, help to develop the complete individual and provide the balanced curriculum that students deserve. As such, the National Association for Music Education strongly urges Congress to maintain core academic subjects, including the arts, in the reauthorization of ESEA.

Full story

The Innovation Roadblock: Why Congress Should Repeal the Medical Device Tax | Commentary

By Mary Woolley and Gregory Sorensen

Investment in medical innovation, including medical devices, is smart for our nation — for patients, their families and the economy. That is why we believe Congress should vote to repeal the medical device excise tax established as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Opposition to the medical device tax is not a commentary on broader health reform. If increased investment in medical innovation is a national priority, as we strongly believe it is, imposing an excise tax on one of the most prolific medical technology industries is counter-strategic. That is one reason why many Democratic lawmakers who support health reform want to see the tax repealed.

The term “medical device” may not immediately bring to mind the astounding array of innovations that fall under this category. Here are just a few: medical imaging, sophisticated diagnostic blood tests, pacemakers, stents, prosthesis, oxygen delivery systems, and the transfusion and infusion equipment needed to treat cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other serious conditions. In other words, medical devices save lives and restore mobility and independence to individuals with disabling injuries or health conditions.

Congress typically levies excise taxes to strategically discourage harmful behaviors such as smoking and alcohol consumption. It’s surprising, then, that an excise tax would be levied on a positive behavior, that is, investment in research and development. Yet, that’s what is happening. In fact, according to a recent analysis by Ernst & Young, venture capital investment in medical devices in 2013 fell 17 percent from the previous year. Moreover, more than half (53 percent) of medical device firms responding to a recent industry survey reported cutting R&D funding as a direct result of the tax, while 85 percent said they would reinstate foregone R&D projects if the tax is repealed. How could it possibly be a good idea to dis-incentivize U.S. medical progress?

Let’s go back to common sense. If a company’s revenue declines, the worst case scenario is job losses, while a typical scenario is fewer new hires. There is no silver lining. The medical device industry is responsible for and supports millions of jobs, creating a growing trade surplus and developing technologies that are advancing and improving patient care in the United States and around the world. The industry has long been a driver of economic growth. The Advanced Medical Technology Association reports that it generates approximately $25 billion in payroll, with median salaries 40 percent more than the national average, and invests nearly $10 billion in R&D annually.

The medical innovation pipeline which includes public sector investment in universities, independent research institutions and medical centers, gives researchers the freedom to uncover basic clues about human health. The private sector follows these leads, investing in the research and development needed to translate them into new treatments, technologies and cures. By its very nature, the medical device tax inhibits the investment necessary to bring forth new life-altering innovations.

If Congress and the president decide, as we hope they will, that it is in the nation’s best interests to evaluate the device tax outside the politically charged debate over health reform, we believe their common interest in advancing U.S. medical innovation will lead them on a bipartisan path toward repeal.

Mary Woolley is CEO of Research!America; Gregory Sorensen is CEO of Siemens Healthcare North America and a member of the executive board of Research!America.

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March 19, 2015

A New Prescription for Health | Commentary

By Neal Barnard, M.D., and Cameron Wells, M.P.H., R.D.

What if your doctor gave you a prescription that would help you lose weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and reduce the risk of several forms of cancer? Even better, the side effects are all beneficial: increased energy, productivity, and an elevated mood. The catch? The prescription isn’t for a pill. It’s for healthful foods and regular physical exercise. Every day.

More than 94 percent of doctors would like to prescribe this approach, but only 14 percent feel comfortable doing so. It stems from a lack of nutrition education, which most medical schools don’t teach. While doctors are regarded as the most credible source of information about diet and health, more than half rate their nutrition knowledge as inadequate.

This explains why less than 25 percent of doctor office visits today include counseling on diet and exercise.5 This is unacceptable and — in the field of preventive medicine — borders on malpractice. As rates of lifestyle diseases skyrocket, it only makes sense that medical training follows suit.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, agree. The bipartisan duo has introduced the Expanding Nutrition’s Role in Curricula and Healthcare (ENRICH) Act, a bill that will grant federal funding to help medical school students learn about dietary patterns and lifestyle habits for disease prevention.

By reallocating funds from the Health Resources and Services Information budget, ENRICH allows up to 30 medical schools to integrate nutrition and physical activity education into existing curricula for three years, starting in 2016. The results speak for themselves: The 10,000 students who received 25 hours of nutrition instruction in 2005, as a result of a previous grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, rank their nutrition knowledge higher than peers who went without this federally supported coursework.

Right now, less than 30 percent of medical schools maintain baseline nutrition education recommendations set forth by the National Academy of Sciences. And fewer, just one in eight, offer coursework on physical activity.

The federal funding doesn’t require medical students to become nutrition experts or exercise aficionados. Twenty-five hours — half a work week — is all it takes to help narrow the ever-expanding nutrition gap in medical education. In fact, studies show that doctors who spend an extra 5.5 minutes with at-risk patients to talk about nutrition help them lose 5 pounds, lower saturated fat intake and lower LDL cholesterol levels.

From a clinical perspective, five minutes and 5 pounds serve as a catalyst for change — a low investment of time and just enough weight, in some cases, to eliminate the need for statins, insulin, and beta-blockers.

With 7 in 10 deaths preventable through diet in our country, a new prescription for health is the remedy we need.10 At the very least, it lays the groundwork for a new medical mindset—one that benefits doctors and their patients.

Neal Barnard, M.D., is the president and founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Cameron Wells, M.P.H., R.D., is the acting director of nutrition education.

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March 18, 2015

Azerbaijan Must Remain A Strong Ally Of The United States | Commentary

By Silvestre Reyes

President Barack Obama is committed to helping the United States extricate itself from the constant violence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that no American troops have lost their lives in either country this year is a testament to the President’s efforts, and something for which all of us should be thankful.

As this country tries to shift away from a near constant focus on the Middle East, towards Asia, there has been a lot of chatter among foreign policy elites to rethink our strategic relationships around the world. However, I believe this type of thinking is misguided. The ascendency of the Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (ISIL), and the terrorist attacks across Europe, make it clear that the United States is going to have to be focused on dealing with threats from the Middle East for some time. Full story

March 17, 2015

May Lobbyists Lobby Their Spouses? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I read that Rep. [Edward] Whitfield, R-Ky., is under investigation for allowing his wife to lobby his office on behalf of her employer. Is it illegal for someone to lobby their spouse? And if so, does that mean lobbyists who are married to Members of Congress cannot discuss policy with their spouse or have any contact with their spouse’s staff? That sounds like a difficult rule to follow. Is it really the case?

A. Last November, the House Ethics Committee announced it had decided to conduct a more in-depth review of allegations that Whitfield broke ethics rules by permitting his wife to lobby himself and his staff. The committee had been referred the matter by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which investigates ethics complaints to determine those that warrant further review by the committee. In accordance with ethics rules, when the committee announced its decision, it also released the OCE’s investigative report, which explains the allegations against Whitfield.

Full story

The STRONG Patents Act Is a Death Squad for Innovation | Commentary

By Charles Duan

When I was 7 years old, I found a wallet on the sidewalk on my way home from the park. My mother told me I had to return it to the lost and found. When I asked why I couldn’t keep it, she responded, “Just because you happened to get it, doesn’t mean it belongs to you.”

A refresher in this lesson is in order for those supporting Sen. Chris Coons’s, D-Del., STRONG Patents Act, a bill that eviscerates the new America Invents Act post-grant proceedings for reconsidering patents. Though the bill masquerades as “balanced reforms,” it in fact is the opposite of reform, insulating owners of bad patents from challenges.

Full story

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